Brands used to need exclusivity and irony to win over consumers. Now, in order to reach the 74.3 million millennials who wield more than $200 billion in purchasing power, brands need to be inclusive and friendly, according to a new report from Mindshare, part of WPP’s GroupM media operation.
"Millennials get a bad rap sometimes -- there’s a perception of them as an entitled generation, that expects a lot back for little effort," say Mark Potts, head of insights, Mindshare North America. "Our research showed that this is a misperception. Millennials believe deeply in working hard, in being smart in how they go about things, and in the value of strong social relationships. What’s different about this generation is how they think about success in their lives -- more around meaning and happiness than previous generations.”
The report finds that today's millennial values are influenced by personal and macro events that include boomer parenting, digitized lives, delayed adulthood, increased education, and The Great Recession.
This confluence of factors has pushed millennials to flock to brands that are more open-minded and respectful. And they want to only associate with brands with similar values. To that end, three in four millennials (74%) say they accept others' flaws and 63% fight for others' rights, even if theirs aren't being threatened. And 60% of millennials felt they are best represented by "things they do for other people." And they expect brands to do the same.
Notably, there are some differences between genders and race/ethnicities. Millennial women are more likely to say ‘the things they did for other people’ are reflective of who they are, versus men. Hispanics are slightly more likely to feel that the brands they bought reflect their identities.
Meanwhile, millennials want to have fun. They have grown up during times of economic uncertainty and post 9-11 malaise. As a result, 72% say life is too short to be uptight. They want brands to express humor and fun. Yet they do have a particular preference for what is funny. Two in three (65%) like smart and witty humor, like Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." And 72% of millennials believe that being smart "is one of their greatest assets."
"There’s this idea that badge brands aren’t as important as they once were," says Potts. "For example, people point to the valid insight that experiences are more important to millennials than owning things. Our work showed that buying and using brands to express their identities is still very important to millennials. It’s just that the things millennials want to tell the world about themselves with the brands they buy is different than previous generations. The brands that get this still do very well, [like| Apple, Toms Shoes, Chipotle."
Ultimately, brands that want to connect with millennials need to incorporate three key elements. First, the badge value of brands is as important to millennials as it was to previous generations. Secondly, while values may still be important, there are a new set of rules for building a badge brand for this generation. Lastly, if you want to be a millennial badge brand, you need to communicate ideas about friendship values and being smart. If you don’t hit on either of these, chances are you’re not going to have a role in millennials’ identities.
"There are two categories of what brands can do. One involves bringing people in: co-creation. The other is around social responsibility and creating social meaning. A lot of companies strive for both, though the really hard thing with this generation is making sure these things are not seen as an add-on. Any effort to put on an identity that seems forced will seem less authentic. If there's anything that this generation has a really good radar for it's sensing when someone is trying to market to them. It's a tough line for brands to walk," said David Burstein, author of "Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World" and contributor to the Mindshare study. View the report here.